More of an emphasis on primary and secondary education, stricter rules are needed

In early 1998, a doctor named Andrew Wakefield created one of the greatest public health scares in decades when he published a study claiming a link between the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

Since then, fuelled by an uncritical media, celebrity culture, the rise of the Internet, and widespread scientific illiteracy, vaccination rates have fallen, according to Statistics Canada. As a result, diseases like measles and pertussis, once practically eliminated, are coming back and claiming lives once again.

Finally, the provincial government is starting to take action. In May, Ontario’s Minister of Health announced plans to make parents take classes on vaccines if they refuse to vaccinate their children.

The Ontario government’s plan to require public health courses is a good one, and should be implemented as soon as possible. However, it isn’t enough—there needs to be more of an emphasis on science and health classes in primary and secondary schools.

Why? Because the anti-vax movement is dangerous. In a world as disease free as our Western society, it’s easy to forget just how prevalent disease once was and how much damage it caused.

As recently as 40 years ago, measles killed over 2.5 million people a year, according to the World Health Organization, and smallpox is responsible for wiping out 300 million people in the 20th century alone.

In light of this situation, it is encouraging to see governments take stronger stances for vaccination. Remember, parents do not own their children—they are stewards, responsible for ensuring their children’s well-being. With the overwhelming evidence in favour of vaccination, refusal to vaccinate does constitute neglect, on the same spectrum as trying to treat meningitis with garlic.

When you refuse to vaccinate, you are not only just putting your child in danger, but you are putting some of the most vulnerable sections of society at risk. Refusing to vaccinate will disproportionately affect people with compromised immune systems like cancer patients and newborns who aren’t old enough to get their vaccines.

Not to mention that vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that they are between 90 and 100 per cent effective. This fact only increases the proportion of people who are likely to get sick.

Ontario should also adopt the Australian “no jab, no pay” system where child-care benefits are refused to parents who don’t vaccinate their children. According to the Australian government, early results are showing that it has worked.

It was 220 years ago that Edward Jenner tested his pioneering smallpox vaccine for the first time. Since then, medicine has evolved dramatically from mostly superstition to an effective science bringing an incredible increase in our lifespan and health. It couldn’t have been done without vaccines—there’s no excuse to turn our back on them.